Udall visits Belen for MainStreet kickoff

United States Sen. Tom Udall visited Belen today to help kick off the New Mexico MainStreet program, an economic development effort lead by locals and supported by the state that’s seeking to revitalize downtown Belen.

Udall met with several business owners in the proposed MainStreet district — the physical area of focus for the local MainStreet program — including the owners of Elite Muscle, a gym and fitness center, Sheroz Jewelers, a jewelry retailer, and Through the Flower, an art gallery. He also discussed economic issues with Mayor Ronnie Torres and Claudette Riley, the executive director of the Greater Belen Economic Development Corporation.

Udall had lots of questions for everyone with whom he spoke, but offered few answers. He made no commitments of financial or political support and made no announcements. Udall’s staff who was present with him in Belen and was holding private meetings with citizens all morning, made it clear he was in town to listen, so he could understand what issues his constituents have been dealing with.

He asked questions about Belen’s history, the business environment, economic development efforts, and construction projects. Torres touted the Heart of Belen gazebo and triumph arch, as well as roadwork on Becker Avenue.

Last week, two MainStreet officials from Clovis explained during a public meeting how the MainStreet program has helped develop their downtown and to give Belen citizens ideas about how to move forward.

Robyne Beaubien from Clovis MainStreet said economic revitalization will be a slow process, with ups and downs. She expressed enthusiasm about the handful of “major projects” Clovis MainStreet has rolled out, including constructing pillars and a crosswalk welcoming visitors to downtown, painting rundown buildings, and hosting an annual wine and cheese event.

“Our group is definitely driven by our volunteers,” Beaubien said.

Clovis MainStreet first began as all organizations start — by getting the paperwork in order. But after that, they began to develop the program by seeking financial support from their city officials and defining their district.

“We also began by building relationships. I think that’s really key,” Beaubien said. “Not just people in leadership, but people on your committees, need to get to know your local — county or city — officials, as well as your state representatives and even those at the national level.”

Beaubien said Clovis MainStreet took about five years to get going, with little to no visible progress prior to that.

“We spent five years building a foundation, getting it financially secure,” she said.

The MainStreet program in Belen is off to a faster start, with the steering committee working to incorporate and build a board of directors. Program officials also see the open gesture of support from Udall as an early success. They are also heartened by the $3 million the city will receive for a pedestrian crossing from the Belen Rail Runner Express station to downtown Belen, which will be vital to moving leisure riders and tourists into downtown.

While Belen’s MainStreet program is in its early stages, the steering committee is now forming four committees made up of citizens who will work on everything from architecture to event promotion.

“The four-point approach that’s going to help us with our downtown revitalization is organization, promotion, economic positioning and design,” Riley explained, continuing, “We need to have committees in those four areas.”

Residents of Rio Communities and even one from Los Lunas have already offered their active support for the program, which shows the interest people across the county have in what’s happening in Belen.

“There’s something about thinking of a greater Belen area as a community, rather than just Belen as a city,” said George Moscona, president of the Rio Communities Association.